During a visit to Philadelphia on Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris touted the outcome of Pennsylvania’s November election as a crucial inflection point that could determine whether the country’s government steers down a path of restriction or extension of civil rights.
“What you do here in Pennsylvania is going to affect the whole country,” she said at a training session for Democratic organizers during a surprise stop with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro in a workers’ district council training center on North Broad Street.
She linked the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade to recent efforts in Harrisburg to restrict abortion and access to the vote, describing it all as part of an ideological campaign by Republicans to “take power instead of rise[ing] the American people based on their basic needs and desires.
“When you look at what’s happening here in Pennsylvania, on issues like [reproductive] choice [and] vote, there is so much at stake in terms of fundamental democratic principles which are about an expansion of freedoms, not a restriction – which are about concepts that have been [founded] right here in this city about liberty and freedom,” she said.
Harris’ trip was part of the Biden administration’s efforts to expand the narrow majority of Democrats in Congress in the upcoming midterm vote – something she described on Saturday as crucial to the president’s ability to implement its agenda on issues ranging from access to abortion, voting rights, and protections for the LGBTQ community.
But Republicans were quick to hit back, saying she had demonstrated around town that she and President Joe Biden were out of touch with most Americans’ concerns about issues like inflation and rising prices. gasoline.
“Harris may overlook the Keystone State price spike, but voters won’t,” said Rachel Lee, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “And in November, the Democrats will be the ones to pay the price.”
The trip itself was something of a whirlwind.
Air Force Two landed at Philadelphia International Airport just after 10:30 a.m., where Harris was greeted on the tarmac by Mayor Jim Kenney.
She made two brief stops – a meeting with about 40 Democratic state legislators and congressmen at the Spring Garden offices of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 158 and the appearance with Shapiro for salute Democratic organizers in North Philadelphia.
At 2 p.m. she was back on the plane for Washington.
But at each location, she was warmly welcomed by enthusiastic supporters. Neighbors holding their cellphone cameras lined the residential streets outside the Carpenters’ Union lobby in hopes of snapping a photo of the vice president and her motorcade.
And his surprise visit to campaign organizers at the workers’ district council training center earned him a standing ovation from those in the room. Harris is expected to return to the area on Monday to deliver the keynote address at the NAACP national convention in Atlantic City.
In her previous meeting with Democratic state lawmakers, State House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, who represents parts of Delaware and Philadelphia counties, described Harris as someone who ” spoke directly to my soul about what it means to be a woman of color and a prosecutor.” McClinton worked seven years as an assistant public defender in Philadelphia.
But Harris stressed to lawmakers gathered in the room that the Biden administration’s ability to deliver on its agenda could directly hinge on its ability to help push Democratic nominee John Fetterman to victory.
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Fetterman, the state’s current lieutenant governor, is running against famed TV doctor and GOP nominee Mehmet Oz for a seat currently held by incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican. The race could provide Democrats with one of their best opportunities to expand their control over the Senate.
The stakes in this race were underscored just a day earlier as U.S. House Democrats passed a pair of bills on Friday that seek to codify many of the reproductive rights and childcare guarantees. abortion that were eliminated by the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Both measures are expected to fail in the Senate, where Democrats currently lack the votes. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) has voted with Republicans on similar bills in the past.
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Still, Harris told lawmakers gathered on Saturday that she and the president were equally concerned about the outcome of local races — such as in the race for governor of Pennsylvania — that could have a significant impact on abortion access in the state.
Currently, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and if the parent’s health is in danger.
Shapiro, the state attorney general who has pledged to protect the status quo, is running against State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee. He pledged to push for a ban on all abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest or if the parent’s health is at risk during the pregnancy.
Many state lawmakers who met with Harris on Saturday also pointed to the decision last week by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to advance a constitutional amendment bill that would explicitly say that the founding document of the State does not guarantee any rights related to abortion.
GOP supporters of the bill argue that it does nothing to change current law and only ensures that abortion regulation in the state remains within the control of the legislature. It came in response to a lawsuit currently before the state Supreme Court that, in part, asks judges to recognize a right to abortion based on state constitution language surrounding equal rights. for women and equal protection under the law.
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To pass, the proposed amendment would need to be approved in a second vote at the next session of the General Assembly, and then by Pennsylvania voters.
“It’s important for Pennsylvanians to have conversations about topics like abortion because people should decide what’s best for them, not the courts,” said Erica Clayton Wright, spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus, in a statement Saturday in response to the vice president’s visit.
Still, State Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D., Montgomery) balked at that rationale.
“Republican leaders say this is not a ban,” she told Harris. “But it certainly opens the door to a ban. We cannot be complacent.